Chronic cough in adults

Eur J Intern Med. 2020 Aug;78:8-16. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2020.03.018. Epub 2020 May 17.


Cough, a defense mechanism for clearing the airways of secretions, exudate, or foreign bodies, may become a troublesome symptom. Chronic cough, one of the most frequent symptoms requiring medical attention, is often not due to identifiable causes in adults. Chronic productive cough defines chronic bronchitis, and thus is present in 100% of these patients, and frequently in patients with bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, and chronic infectious respiratory diseases. However, chronic cough is most frequently dry. Thus, chronic cough in adults is a difficult syndrome requiring multidisciplinary approaches, particularly to diagnose and treat the most frequent identifiable causes, but also to decide which patients may benefit by treating the central cough hypersensitivity by neuromodulatory therapy and/or non-pharmacologic treatment (speech pathology therapy). Recent guidelines provide algorithms for diagnosis and assessment of cough severity; particularly chronic cough in adults. After excluding life-threatening diseases, chronic cough due to identifiable causes (triggers and/or diseases), particularly smoking and/or the most frequent diseases (asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, eosinophilic bronchitis, and adverse reactions to drugs [angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and sitagliptin]) should be treated by avoiding triggers and/or according to guidelines for each underlying disease. In patients with troublesome chronic cough due to unknown causes or persisting even after adequate avoidance of triggers, and/or treatment of the underlying disease(s), a symptomatic approach with neuromodulators and/or speech pathology therapy should be considered. Additional novel promising neuromodulatory agents in clinical development (e.g., P2X3 inhibitors) will hopefully become available in the near future.

Keywords: Bronchiectasis; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Smoking; Tuberculosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma*
  • Bronchiectasis* / complications
  • Bronchiectasis* / therapy
  • Bronchitis*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cough / etiology
  • Humans